Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 13, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 13 August 2018

Ball One – Red Rose withers, then blooms

After six weeks of sixes, the Vitality Blast enters its last rounds of matches this week. Lancashire have just completed a busy one, starting with a deflating defeat to table-topping Durham, Liam Trevaskis making a name for himself conceding just two off a heart-stopping last over, as Lanky sought the six runs they needed for the win. To their credit, and without Liam Livingstone, their injured skipper, Lancashire bounced back to beat Durham at the end of the week, having despatched Yorkshire and The Birmingham Bears Warwickshire in between. One of the players responsible for the Red Rose charge is teenage left-arm wrist spinner, Zahir Khan, who has taken six wickets at an average of 17 and a strike rate 7.1 since coming into the side. The Afghan is forming a deadly duo with right arm wrist spinner, Matt Parkinson, whose 18 wickets have come at 19.4 and 7.8. Lancashire’s fragile batting, far too dependent on the ultra consistent Alex Davies, may yet stall their progress, but if the tweakers get any kind of score to bowl behind, at least it’ll be fun!

Ball Two – Moores the merrier, as Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire enter decisive week

With Worcestershire also guaranteed a top four slot, the last quarter-final place in the North Group lies between Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, who play at Headingley this week in what may prove to be a play-off. Notts will start as favourites having beaten the Tykes at Trent Bridge last week, their 212, scored off a depleted Yorkshire attack, proving too many. Tom Moores’ 80 not out anchored the innings in a good season for the wicketkeeper-batsman, in fact, in a good season overall for wicketkeeper-batsmen (though not all are donning the gauntlets in the field). It’s easy to forget that Moores is still only 21, perhaps because he garnered more press coverage than other youngsters since his father is ex-England coach, Peter Moores. It’s never easy to follow in the footsteps of a famous parent, but Stuart Broad and Jonny Bairstow are doing okay just now, and David (son of Peter) Willey will be making plans for that potential showdown.

Ball Three – Corey scores for Somerset

A hat-trick of wins saw Somerset sail clear at the top of the South Group, securing their quarter-final berth. The big Kiwi bruiser, Corey Anderson, proved instrumental in those victories, even if he is not bowling these days. Across those three matches, Anderson (it’s a good week to have that surname) made 150 runs off 78 balls, striking 6 fours and 12 sixes. Usually coming in around the halfway mark and certainly after the powerplay overs, that’s the kind of hitting that lifts a target beyond opponent’s batting capacity or re-invigorates a stalling chase. Anderson will never be a pretty player to watch, but few are more powerful.

Ball Four – Cockbain crows after miraculous knock

In a productive week for the West Country clubs, Gloucestershire joined Somerset in the quarters with two wins and a washout. They racked up a remarkable 242-4 against the increasingly ragged Middlesex, Ian Cockbain’s 123 off 61 the standout performance. Cockbain (at this point I’m obliged to write that I played against his grandfather, the formidable Big Ronnie Cockbain of Bootle CC) is exactly the kind of journeyman pro for whom it occasionally clicks and a glorious day ensues – and county cricket’s many followers, no matter their personal allegiances, always crack a wry smile when it does. Much can happen between now and Finals Day on 15 September, but I do hope some journeymen make it to Edgbaston and that short term overseas players and loan deals do not crowd them out. There ought to be a rule forbidding such sharp practice, but who knows?

Ball Five – Can Joe Denly find a home in England’s squad for Sri Lanka?

The other two spots in the knockout stage rest between Kent, Glamorgan, Surrey and Sussex, all of whom will be praying for a bit of more luck with the weather this week compared to last. Kent have the most points of the quartet and the momentum, such as it is, after a win over whipping boys Middlesex at Beckenham.  Joe Denly underlined his all-rounder status again, having been taken for a predictable 13 in the first over of the match by Paul Stirling,  he returned to take 3-12 in the remaining three overs of his allocation, not conceding a boundary on a bijou ground. England have five ODIs and a T20 coming up in Sri Lanka and could do a lot worse than having another look at a man who last played for England as a pure batsman nine years ago. The legspinner’s T20 record in 2018 reads 16 wickets at 15.1 and a strike rate of 7.7 and, in 50 overs cricket, 14 wickets at 30.8 and 5.9 – it speaks of a man reborn at 32 years of age.

Ball Six – Two batches of almost 36 overs – two very different games

What is this “cricket” of which you speak?

I was lucky enough to be at Lord’s for the Test match on Friday and witnessed 35.2 overs in which India crept to 107 all out, failing to deal with the swing and seam England’s bowlers were able to generate at will. Too often, bats were half-closed as heads moved outside the line of the ball, the better to flick it into the legside for runs – that it was hard enough to hit the ball with the full face did not deter such ill-judged “strokes”. Before I left HQ, I watched a bit of televised T20 as Glamorgan and Hampshire played 35.5 overs, in which 306 runs were scored for the loss of the same number of wickets I has seen fall at Lord’s. The legside play in Cardiff was more successful, the bowling less skilled and the batting more confident. That said, nobody arriving from Mars that day would have claimed that they were watching the same game, so different was, well, everything. But is this stark (and growing) difference in cricket’s formats a strength to be celebrated or a weakness to be feared?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 13, 2018

England vs India Second Test Day Four

One of India’s better spells in the match

Batting was difficult under leaden skies when England resumed, the lead 250. Quite what the batsmen, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran, swingers both, made of it, I don’t know, but surely they would have preferred to have ball in hand. Quick runs were the only justification for Joe Root’s delaying of the declaration and Curran was first into T20 mode, jumping around in the crease to smear Mohammed Shami through the covers and then slog the inevitable short retort into the Tavern Stand. Smart cricket from a very smart cricketer.

He perished from the first ball bowled by Hardik Pandya, caught by Shami at Third Man for 40 – exactly how a Number 8 should go when the lead is 289. Woakes walked in to examine the red ink showing his score – 137 – with every right to be as pleased as Punch with his work. No doubt his bowling fingers were twitching too, as the clouds lowered and lowered.

It took Jimmy Anderson eight deliveries to pick up his 100th wicket at Lord’s, bringing one back down the slope to take the inside edge of Murali Vijay’s bat. India were, for the second time in three days, 0-1 with the captain indisposed by a bad back – to say nothing of a bad side – and things looked grim.

Anderson was bowling beautifully, but he hardly needed to in snaring KL Rahul, who had learned exactly nothing from his colleagues’ capitulation in the first dig, playing round his front pad to a straight ball, hit dead in front. Pathetic.

Vice-captain, rather than captain, emerged as the rain loomed larger and larger. Ajinkya Rahane had big shoes to fill and as tough an assignment as the game offers.

He had plenty of time to consider the task at hand over an extended lunch, the product of light rain. The players were back on at 2pm and Woakes bounced in, the puppyish mien still clinging to his 29 year old frame. It was his match, as his Man of the Match award would attest.

Stuart Broad sent Rahane back, the right-hander stretching to get an edge to a ball that flew to third slip where Keaton Jennings took a sharp catch. Rahane had done the hard work in getting to 13, so why he felt the need to play at so wide a delivery was another mystery to add to a few in this match.

With his captain fighting and in real pain, Che Pujara was working very hard to preserve his wicket – a rare instance of a tourist not called Kohli putting a high price on his name. Broad, running in with that rhythm that always portends trouble at the other end, found the kind of late in-duck that Waqar Younis would find on the southern side of the Thames, and cleaned up Pujara with a ball that was pretty much unplayable. The returning Number 3 had batted 87 balls for his 17 – a decent effort in which he could take some pride.

Kohli was doing all he could to blank out the pain from his back and from the scoreboard, but Broad had that glint in his eye, charging in and up at around 90mph. A blur of glove, bat and thigh pad sent the ball to Ollie Pope, diving forward at short leg. Out said Aleem Dar! Review said Virat Kohli! Out said the shallow spike that could only be contact between ball and glove and India’s last hope walked, stiff-backed, back to the massage table, a valiant opponent vanquished.

Dinesh Karthik’s first ball was a horrible inswinger that rapped him on the pad and Dar was in the game again and right again on review, the umpire rivalling Broad in skill and application. Ravichandran Ashwin survived the hat-trick ball and the umpires sent the players away, as bad light and rain combined to offer some respite to the beleaguered visitors. 66-6 – the Indians in a devil of a spot.

Broad had 4-16, and the satisfaction of silencing the critics who were murmuring about rotating him out at Trent Bridge – no chance of that now. The match turned bitty – both batsmen rapped on the hands and needing treatment (although why that needs to be administered on the field instead of in the dressing rooms, is always lost on me).

Pandya and Ashwin played a few shots and, inevitably, some of the intensity went from the English bowling. The scoreboard advanced to three figures and, though the show of competitive pride from the all-rounders was appreciated, nobody was mistaking them for VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid, 2001 versions. Pandya has talent though, revealing it with a beautiful drive back past Broad, all the way to the pavilion. What a different game it is when the full face of the bat is presented to the ball!

But he couldn’t resist a crooked shot to Woakes’s first ball of a new spell and was hit high, but stuck on the crease, and such deliveries are often shown to be going on to hit. So it proved – Pandya’s enterprising knock terminated on 26, India 116-7 with just the bowlers to come.

Kuldeep Yadav was stitched up like a kipper by Anderson, pulled across the crease before a grenade burst through the gate, bowled, the second pair for India after Vijay’s double demise. Shami was given out second ball, caught down the legside off an Anderson bouncer, but it looked “wrong” to the naked eye and the “no spiking” snicko reprieved the opening bowler.

Not that it mattered, Shami almost swinging himself off his feet in missing a straight one, LBW, another duck, another for Anderson.

Fittingly, it was Woakes who closed out the match, Ishant Sharma middling a leg glance, but directing it to Pope who had spirited himself in to leg slip for exactly that shot. India were all out for 130, with Ashwin left high and dry on 33, a finger-bashing knock that said much about his professionalism in a side that looked a little short of heart as well as skills in such difficult conditions.

England, the team that needed no luck, got all that was going, from the moment Root called the toss correctly. That said, Anderson (9-43) and Broad (5-81) drew upon the experience that put nearly 1000 Test wickets against their names, to blow away the pride of Indian batting and Woakes (4-43) and Curran (1-53) were not not far behind the two champions. Adil Rashid, who possibly needs to pay his subs, was not required to bat or bowl.

While India will reflect on a heavy defeat (there’s no sugarcoating an innings and 159 runs), they can take some solace from reducing England to 89-4, the match tilting a little on its second afternoon. Cue Bairstow and Woakes, whose stand of 189 took the India win out of the equation. Woakes’s 137 not out proved the centrepiece of the match, but Bairstow’s 93 was a crucial momentum shifter.

India’s captain is a tough and honest man and he refused to blame conditions for the hammering. With injuries, not least his own, and too many players hideously out of form, he will demand changes for Trent Bridge on Saturday. One feels that India need a good weekend in Nottingham, because if they get behind in the game, 2-0 down and with only one batsman in form, the series could disappear very quickly indeed. For England, the only question might concern the possible return of Ben Stokes, but if his services are not available, he’ll hardly be missed.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 12, 2018

England vs India Second Test Day Three


Under egg shell blue skies, with a rapt crowd (and not the wrapped crowd of the previous two sodden days), Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami looked in vain for the lavish movement Jimmy Anderson and Chris Woakes found in Friday’s damp. It would, of course, be more elusive with August asserting its true character, and an early leg stump line didn’t help, as Keaton Jennings and Alastair Cook settled early nerves with bat on ball.

England progressed serenely to 28-0 when, as has happened throughout the series, a wicket came from nowhere, Shami angling one into Jennings’ front pad, pinning him plumb LBW for 11. Inexplicably, Cook advised the review – and it was hitting middle and leg, as everyone knew. It was a poor shot from Jennings, who lost his shape, yet another to be out trying to work the ball to leg. He would not be the last.

Cook (21) soon followed his fellow opener back to the pavilion, edging a near perfect Sharma delivery the line of which demanded the defensive bat, but the movement of which made the kiss through to Dinesh Karthik inevitable. Beautiful bowling from a man who was settling into his work.

Ollie Pope received a tremendous reception from the always appreciative Lord’s crowd (save Ian Botham 1981 obviously) and tucked his second ball to the square leg boundary to open his account in Test cricket. If anything, Pope looked like the man with 6000 Test runs and Joe Root the young tyro, the debutant positive in his footwork and straight in his presentation of the bat. The England captain was feeling for the ball, looking to get into his preferred busy rhythm, an aim helped by some loose stuff from Hardik Pandya, looking more a fifth seamer than a third.

Pope’s impressive cameo was concluded on 28, yet another victim of the almost compulsive collective desire to clip the ball to leg that batsmen have exhinbited over the last four sessions. The review was in vain, and England were out of that insurance policy after just 21 overs. Pandya had a somewhat unexpected notch in the wickets column.

Root (19) inexplicably played back (if his jab could be deemed a shot at all) to a length delivery from the returning Shami, who seamed it in a little to nail the England captain on the crease, neither forward nor back to one that did keep a bit low – plainly LBW with his team having burned both reviews. It was yet another poor shot in a match littered with them. Such was the incompetence on show that people wondered if it was only the dismal over rate that would ensure play tomorrow.

England resumed after lunch on 89-4 with Jos Buttler the new man, joining fellow keeper, Jonny Bairstow. It was hard to credit, but Ravichandran Ashwin had not yet had a bowl, Kohli plumping for Shami and Sharma at their favoured ends to start the session, as clouds gathered over the pavilion.

England moved into credit with the shot of the day – of the match – Bairstow driving a straight full ball slightly onside of the non-striker, the contrast with the regular repeated failed attempts to clip to midwicket as marked as it was predictable. Bairstow and Buttler were playing a different game, the footwork more positive than all their predecessors in the match, save Pope, and their confidence blossoming as a result. The slip cordon was reduced to a pair as Kohli sensed the game rapidly going away from him.

Almost inevitably, Buttler played all round his pad to be LBW to the persevering Shami. Having been shown the value of driving down the ground by Bairstow, it was a hugely disappointing way to go, his 24 a nothing score even in a low scoring match. The lead was also 24.

Woakes and Bairstow looked as comfortable as any partnership in advancing the lead into “handy” territory, helped by Kohli’s strange reluctance to toss the ball to Ashwin (323 wickets) favouring Pandya (8 wickets). Drinks brought a change of heart and the off spinner had his chance.

Bairstow was playing the innings of substance that was always likely to come from one of the England batsmen and, with Woakes playing his usual sensible hand at the other end, the lead advanced into “handy” territory with “dominant” looming. Kohli, no doubt looking around the field for Umesh Yadav but only finding his callow namesake, Kuldeep, was powerless as the runs began to flow, the game tilting towards only two results: the England win or the rain-affected draw.

England’s lead was 123 at tea with Woakes (55) cruising and Bairstow (62) with pipe and slippers on, and it looked a long way back for India, a side that looked at least one pacer short and, consequently, mentally and physically exhausted. The only respite looming was the product of an appalling over rate that would surely slice about half a dozen from the day. With the Bairstow / Woakes alliance going at above four an over with a tiring attack to flog, that would matter with a late declaration an increasingly attractive option.

With the cloudbase ever lower and the gloom surprisingly not ameliorated by the floodlights, England were that little bit more circumspect after tea, but they, unlike India yesterday, had done the hard yards in wearing down the bowlers and the runs soon flowed like Double Diamond at a Gillette Cup Final. Woakes, in particular, was imperious, blasting and then stroking Ashwin for consecutive fours, forcing Kohli to turn to Sharma, a man whom he would surely prefer to save for the new ball.

There were ones where there should have been dots, twos that should have been singles and, as always happens in these circumstances, boundaries off the edge. India weren’t quite a rabble, but England could hardly have been any more on top. Such a position is earned – even in the much more challenging batting conditions India faced, if anyone had got their head down and battled through to fifty (as Kohli did at Edgbaston) batting is always easier – nobody did.

Woakes won the private battle with Bairstow to reach three figures first, raising his maiden Test ton with a pull off a half-hearted bouncer from Pandya. The lead soon stretched above 200 with the partnership not far behind and thoughts turned to Bairstow repeating the trick and then a possible declaration. Woakes had joined a select group of seven Englishman on both Honours Boards (and he’s on the “Ten Wickets in a Match” one too), Lord’s very much his favourite ground.

It wasn’t to be for YJB, the keeper brilliantly caught by his opposite number, having flashed very hard at a wide one from Pandya, 93 runs his share of a game-changing 189 runs partnership. Bairstow, as popular as anyone amongst England players and fans, got a huge hand, acknowledgement of achievement tempered with sympathy. Karthik’s catch was lost a little in the moment, but, towards the end of a long day and under the cosh, it was a splendid effort.

The second Surrey 20-year old in the XI arrived at the crease in a very different match situation to that of his county colleague, nevertheless he immediately looked as much at home as he did at Edgbaston. India were hanging on for the new ball and runs were on offer all round the ground – Sam Curran just got on with accumulating the easy pickings, like an old pro.

It was proper dark with the lights very bright indeed when the umpires came together to send the players from the field. The score was 357-6, the lead a round 250, with Woakes on 120 and Curran 22.

It had been, as the cliché almost has it, a day of two halves, ball lording it over bat as England limped to 131-5, no batsman making fewer than 11, but none going past Pope’s 28 either. But as the ball softened and bowlers went into the third spells, batting became less problematic, then easier and ultimately a breeze for a positive Bairstow and a silky smooth Woakes. They put their team into a totally dominant position at the end of the third day, with India needing the intervention of the weather gods or that of their very own batting god to avoid going two down with three to play.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 11, 2018

England vs India Second Test Day Two

Again and again and again

After the first day washout, Joe Root won the toss and elected to bowl, as clouds gathered over a greenish strip – not that anyone can say anything about a pitch until it’s used. England had gone with the expected changes from the victorious Edgbaston XI, with debutant Ollie Pope in for Dawid Malan and Chris Woakes for the indisposed Ben Stokes, whose forward defence this week is of a different kind. India also made a couple of changes, Che Pujara for Shikhar Dhawan and the “mysterious” Kuldeep Yadav for the unlucky Umesh Yadav.

It took only five balls for Murali Vijay to attempt to flick an outswinging fullish ball from James Anderson into the leg side – the result was as predictable as the shot, the off stump pinned back and India 0-1. It was as poor in execution as it was in conception – almost comically bad for so experienced a campaigner. Some may point to the excellence of the delivery as mitigation, but what does one expect in the first hour from Anderson?

The next wasn’t long coming, KL Rahul getting an Anderson delivery that he did well to nick to Bairstow, gone for 8 after a fierce examination of his appreciation of the off stump. The threatened rain arrived and brought India some much needed relief, a cloudburst sending the players off with the score 11-2 and Virat Kohli, already looking like India’s only hope, off the mark with a single.

After a 75 minutes delay, the rain relented long enough for Pujara and Kohli to concoct a run out that had to be seen to be believed, both batsmen ending up at the same end, the single never there. Ollie Pope’s first contribution to his country’s cause was to keep his head, running in from point to remove a bail when a fling at the stumps would have been expected from some (for example, an absent friend). Rubbing salt into the wound, torrential rain arrived before Ajinkya Rahane emerged the Long Room. Kohli, who had taken one, maybe two, steps too many for Pujara to turn back, had some explaining to do. With the rain heavier than ever, he had plenty of time to do so, while pondering a scoreboard that read a sorry 15-3.

The sun teased us by poking its head out from behind the clouds for long enough to prompt the umpires to set a time for a number of resumptions, but the showers, often of monsoon intensity, butted in just as the players were ready to go. The Lord’s crowd (and is there a more patient one in the world?) looked on philosophically and opened another bottle of chardonnay. Kohli surely seethed.

The miracle that is the Lord’s drainage did its job and, incredibly, play resumed in the evening sunshine, most of the crowd having sat out the long delay. England had five slips for Anderson and Kohli punched a four through extra cover to get the blood flowing and the scoreboard ticking. England had everything in their favour, a full session scheduled in which only the home side could take a real advantage.

Joe Root’s move into the slips cordon did not improve its effectiveness after its fallible Test in Birmingham, as the England captain spilled a sharp chance offered by Rahane off Broad. He was close to the wicket and the ball went quickly, but any slipper would expect to take the chance more often than not.

Anderson was giving a masterclass in swing bowling, moving it late from on or around the of stump. Kohli tried to resist, but couldn’t help himself, flashing at fresh air as the ball curved and kicked away. Broad wasn’t extracting the same response from atmosphere nor pitch, but his probings were still a handful.

But Chris Woakes, who replaced Broad, was immediately more threatening, moving the ball Andersonesquely. The slips looked as comically bad as ever when Kohli was dropped by Jos Buttler at second slip, but the very next ball, the same combination delivered, Woakes snaring Kohli for 23, India 49-4 and Buttler feeling a whole lot better. There were 16 overs left in the day and England were certainly contemplating a late evening bat.

No matter the difficulties of conditions and the quality of the bowling, the compulsive desire to work the ball from off to leg despite the swing taking it the other way was dismally ill-judged. Never mind technique, secondary school physics explains why a straight bat is needed to intercept a swinging ball – Test players shouldn’t need such basic instruction.

Incredibly, Buttler and Woakes repeated their drop-then-catch trick off consecutive balls to dismiss Hardik Pandya, the movement far too much for the all-rounder. Dinesh Karthik continued the procession, bowled off the inside edge through a yawning gap by Sam Curran. India were 62-6 and looked likely to lose their next four wickets from the next four balls.

Rahane and Ravichandran Ashwin rebuilt to the extent of taking the score to 84, when the return of Anderson induced an edge from Rahane that was taken by Alastair Cook at first slip.To be fair, Rahane’s was the first dismissal that had no element of contributory negligence, the shot defensive, the bat close the pad, the foot moving to the ball. Sometimes it really is too tough when you’re up against a man with over 500 wickets.

That said, maybe I’m too harsh or too old, but these were not 85-7 conditions. Line up the ball, watch it all the way, play it late with a straight bat with no gap between it and the pad, keep the hands soft and do not attempt to clip it to leg. Then, wait for the bad ball. It’s always easy from the boundary though, isn’t it?

Kuldeep Yadav illustrated the point by attempting to get off the mark by whipping James Anderson from middle stump to deep square leg. Really? It was, with the ball swinging, a shot he could essay 100 times and connect perhaps thrice. Mohammad Azharuddin might have had the percentages in his favour but Kuldeep is no Azhar – few are.

The two opening bowlers needed four runs to raise the three figures and the talk was that England might fancy wasting a bit of time to avoid a very nasty few minutes in the gathering gloom. Mohammed Shami had other ideas and wasn’t going to die wondering, slicing edges over the slips to breach the 100.

It couldn’t last – and it didn’t, Ishant Sharma LBW to Anderson, India 107 all out off the last ball of the day. England’s fast-medium men had bowled very well, Anderson’s 5-20 the obvious highlight, but Woakes was as impressive, his 2-19 not fully reflecting his control of line and length. Curran and Broad chipped in with one each and never let the pressure off with four balls. The catching remained inconsistent at best.

The story of the day was roughly 75% wonderful bowling and 25% dismal batting. Kohli nneds to read the Riot Act, dig out the dusty textbooks and remind his charges about the basics of batting. There’s no shame in finishing a day 27 not out off 100 balls – but who had any appetite for that?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 7, 2018

The anatomy of a great Test match

August is silly season in the Press – Parliament is not sitting, most of the Westminster Bubble’s occupants are in Tuscany or Edinburgh and stories can be tricky to find. But as sure as one reads the “One man and a dog watched the only County Championship match to escape the snow” pieces in April, one reads the “Good ol’ Test cricket – though it’s not what it was in my youth and how many more years has it left anyway?” articles in August.

The Guardian ran two such articles on the same day last week (by Kenan Malik and Mary Dejevsky) and, though I’ll limit my criticism of their tough love doom-mongering to inviting them to consider the “crowd” for English cricket’s most celebrated innings – see for yourself here – I want to take this opportunity to analyse how Edgbaston produced a magnificent Test match, the greatest of games’s alchemy spinning gold from wood, grass and leather yet again.

The multi-millionaires of India squared off against the millionaires of England and it mattered, it really mattered. The home side had surrendered The Ashes meekly, blown away by Australia’s sheer Australianess Down Under, then lost the series in New Zealand or drew at home to Pakistan. India had a number one ranking to defend and a dismal overseas record to improve – the game’s new financial and administrative masters needed the team that wore their crest to play like masters. What about those T20I and ODI wins  / defeats? On the first day of a Test series, such matters are of no relevance to anyone on the field or in the stands.

Test cricket is an accumulation of events from which sub-plots emerge within the overarching story. For such an antiquated, twee, terminally unsexy entertainment format, it’s remarkable how much the “box set” event television of Game of Thrones or Westworld owes to Test cricket’s narrative structure. Everyone expected James Anderson bowling to Virat Kohli to be one such sub-plot, but we were barely half an hour into the match when India’s leading spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin (a man with much to prove in England) stitched up Alastair Cook like a kipper. Ashwin repeated the trick in the second innings, Cook losing his off bail again, and the duel was set up for the series as a fascinating individual battle, with England’s leading run scorer’s career at stake. Just wait for the murmur-then-hush to descend on Lord’s the moment Kohli tosses the ball to his off spinner with Cook at the crease.

England were 216-3, the captain cruising to a century in the company of his batsman-wicketkeeper, Jonny Bairstow, the pair putting away four balls and pinching singles against a fielding side with too many camels. The two Yorkies had grown up together and had played matches all over the world, both of them super fit and quick (Root) and lightening (Bairstow) between the sticks. India, as they had too often on the last two tours (2014 lost 3-1; 2011 lost 4-0) were waiting for something to happen. And then it did. Kohli swooped and threw off balance, on the turn, his momentum going away from his target, but he hit the stumps at the bowler’s end and they lit up. And so did the contest.

That this India would play with the heart of its captain was now irrefutable, Kohli, without yet facing a ball, had stamped his personality on the match, on the series and, after too many one-sided Tests in recent years, we knew these tourists would not, once behind in a match, give up and coast into the next Test. England soon surrendered six wickets for 69 runs to close on 285-9, the day finishing even after both sides had enjoyed periods of dominance. It felt like a tone had been set – two sides reflecting their cricketing traditions, but evenly matched – what would separate them would be players’ willingness to embrace the unique challenge of five day cricket.

That theme was explored on a second day that nobody lucky enough to be there, will ever forget.

Like an opera, Test matches can include periods when you feel you’re allowed to take a break: the emotions aren’t quite as high; the big arias are yet to come; the heroes’ and villains’ characters not wholly developed. The morning of the second day felt like that for 90 minutes or so. England’s innings had been wrapped up swiftly and India’s openers had posted a largely untroubled 50.

England’s champion bowlers, Anderson and Stuart Broad had bowled well, but neither had enjoyed the bit of luck everyone needs and the shine was wearing off the new ball. Then, as would happen in the old Batman TV show, a KAPOW!! flashed across our vision.

Sam Curran’s selection had slipped under the radar amidst the whining about Adil Rashid’s transporting to Edgbaston directly from white ball cricket. The Surrey leftie is young, but otherwise (it seemed) largely unremarkable – not a speedster protégé bursting on to the scene like Patrick Cummins or Kagisa Rabada did a few years previously, nor a Southern African whose commitment might be open to question like, well, you know. He had a name to make – and he did.

Curran bagged the top three in the Indian order in the space of 17 balls to lurch the game forward again and received the ultimate mark of arrival as a bona fide international sports star – he was trending on Twitter. Lunch, which had looked like a rather relaxed affair in which speculation on whether India might enjoy a small lead at the end of the day might have been the main topic of conversation, turned into a scrabble through the databases to find other 20 year-olds who had taken three wickets in an innings for England – and there weren’t many. Cricket had a new face – a baby-faced assassin – to talk about, the sport renewing its cast before our wide eyes.

Not for the last time, the focus of millions zoomed in on the Indian captain, a man who has lived his entire adult life under such scrutiny, revelling in the attention, a man who embraces pressure and feeds off its seductive ego building energy. England bowled brilliantly, Root captained perfectly, but England fielded badly, Kohli dropped in a moment that prompted everyone, on the field, in the stands or at home, to whisper to themselves, “He’ll make them pay for that.” The scoreboard was largely static – appropriately, as nobody was moving in the crowd nor in the Press Box.

In any endeavour, greatness is bestowed across a career, the perspective required in order to capture its breadth – but not now. In these hours, we would see greatness embraced, established, underlined as Kohli fought to get himself into a match that was sliding rapidly away from the grip of his iron will, then forge on to get his team into the series. Some claim that such innings do not deserve the description “great” as they include flaws – the dropped catch, frequent plays and misses, edges not quite carrying – but such incidents merely add to the lustre. It was never easy for Kohli, indeed it was often very difficult indeed, but the application of skill, the control of temperament and the calling upon of immense reserves of concentration got him through. I have no hesitation in putting the innings in the top five I’ve been privileged to see, live or on television.

Somehow, day two also finished level, England 22 ahead, but Ashwin 2-0 up on Cook. Too slow, you say, for the T20 generation?

Few expected England to find a batsman who could match Kohli’s 149, but few expected to see a scoreboard that soon screamed 87-7, the match, if not gone, very much standing in the hall with its coat on. I wondered about England’s chances – 500/1 crossed my mind – but Ian Botham seemed as absent in spirit as in physical presence.

Curran didn’t know about 1981 and all that – he was born in 1998 – and he seized the moment like a caricature of youthful innocence. Unfazed by a restive crowd, some of whom had had just about enough of England collapses, he played each ball on its merits, defending with a plumb straight vertical bat, not always moving his feet into textbook positions to attack, but trusting a hand-eye coordination that lay within the spirals of his DNA. He looked like he was playing in a schools festival, not rescuing a crucial Test match against the best team in the world.

Then he opened up, stroking the ball to the boundary off the front foot, bludgeoning it off the back foot, rousing the crowd who, once again, couldn’t believe what was going off out there. His 63 prompted another flick through the record books (fifth youngest to make a half century for England) and set India 194, tough, but clearly gettable if someone (and we all knew who) could play a major innings.

The Saturday crowd arrived early knowing that every ball mattered, as the Test had been reduced to the simplest of challenges (with the widest range of possibilities): England needed five wickets; India needed 84 runs. Dinesh Karthik went early, but the crowd barely noticed, all eyes on Kohli, whom England surely needed to dismiss if victory were to be secured. Root was brilliant, starving Kohli of the strike through fields that invited him to take the single early in the over, but maintained the slips that showed him his jeopardy, while attacking Hardik Pandya, who, to his credit, played with much of the nous and verve displayed by Curran the previous day. But India were creeping towards their target and showing no signs of the anxiety that England’s pressure was intended to provoke.

Root had to make something happen, so he tossed the ball to the man who makes things happen – Ben Stokes. England’s all-rounder had looked gaunt, a little hollow-eyed, like a man who wasn’t sleeping too well – and everyone knew why – but, like so many sports stars with problems, Stokes came alive in the cauldron of competition. Having been set up by the first two balls he faced from the England man, Kohli lost concentration momentarily and, perhaps knowing that he had to take the fight to England’s most combative player, fell slightly across his front pad essaying a whip to leg, palpably pinned LBW. Stokes was The Man again.

As he left the field, taking India’s hopes with him, the crowd rose to Kohli, the applause loud enough to be heard in Delhi. England’s fans had enjoyed baiting him as a pantomime villain after his first day send-off for Root, but they recognised what he had done for his team and the entertainment for which he, with 200 runs set against his compatriots’ 214 between them, was responsible. Kohli had quietly clapped in the direction of Curran after his game-changing innings, but England couldn’t do that with the tail still to mop up, but I like to think that they would have if they could. God knows he deserved it.

The scorebook says that England won the First Test by 31 runs – the expected result, if a closer call than most would have predicted four days earlier. Test cricket had also shown its hand: a topsy-turvy match, the balance shifting hour by hour; great players demonstrated why their reputations are deserved; youngsters forging the early chapters in their Test stories; and Test match cricket entralling its audience once again.

There’s plenty that’s wrong with cricket just now (something that’s been written pretty much every day since 1877 I’d venture) but does anything in life provide its canvas of possibilities, its simple complexities, its bloody-marvellousness?

Not even close…



Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 6, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 6 August 2018

Carlsen – making all the right moves

Ball One – Kiran Carlson the master of a grand game at The Oval

Twenty20 cricket can be maligned for its formulaic quality, its try-hard presentation (a thickish edge for four does not warrant enough flares to herald the second coming of VE Day) and its (often) boozy, boorish crowds (they might need to do something about that if they want new demographics through the gate). But (whisper it) just because T20 isn’t Test cricket doesn’t make it a bad game. I literally stopped off at The Oval on the way home on Tuesday evening, intending to catch an hour’s play before sorting things out for the trip to Edgbaston, but became gripped by a fine match – skill levels were high, both teams completely committed, the very decent crowd fully involved. Glamorgan beat Surrey, partly due to a fifty from Kiran Carlson, who has the fastest hands I have seen in years. I stayed for the duration – so did everyone else.

Ball Two – Vitality Blast showing plenty of vitality

With teams having played nine or ten matches of the 14 match group stage, perhaps only four teams are out of the reckoning for a quarter-final berth and a shot at Finals Day (Northamptonshire, Hampshire, Middlesex and Essex). To maintain an interest for the 14 other counties (and for those four stragglers to include some unexpected names) shows that the structure of the competition – at least when the sun shines – isn’t bad at all. If only national media outlets allowed the narrative of the season to seep into the national consciousness – but those days have gone.

Ball Three – Ross Whiteley cleans up down the order

To underline the competitive quality of the tournament, Worcestershire lead the North Group (ahead of four Test Match ground counties) after back-to-back wins over second placed Durham and Nottinghamshire. Those matches saw Ross Whiteley make 60 and 32 not out off a total of 44 balls – his role as finisher delivered perfectly. Whiteley is one of those pros of whom little is known outside county cricket’s geekish aficionados, but, amongst those, there are few players who empty the bars more quickly when they walk to the middle. A very handy player to have on board, as Worcestershire eye a slot in the top four

Ball Four – Mohammad Nabi nabs an unlikely win for Leicestershire

Performance of the Week in the North Group goes to Mohammad Nabi, the Afghan hounding Lancashire’s bowlers relentlessly,  turning what looked a routine defeat for Leicestershire into a win in the space of eight overs of mayhem. Having been set a stiff 191 to win after Alex Davies’s 94 not out, the visitors needed 99 runs from 9 overs after Nabi had blocked his first ball. With that cold calculation that the best T20 players exhibit these days, he let himself get his eye in, unconcerned by an asking rate rising to well over 12, and then teed off. Two fours and two sixes off an Arron Lilley over pushed the rate back into single figures and a blaze of six sixes off the last 17 balls of the match saw Leicestershire over the line with eight balls to spare. Nabi had made 86 of the 99 runs required just half an hour earlier, off a mere 32 balls – once again, the limits of what is possible to chase had been pushed back (see Ball Six below)

Ball Five – Jerome Taylor suits Somerset well

In a good week, Somerset beat Hampshire, Essex and Sussex to leap to the top of the South Group. Their standout player in such a splendid run of form was probably Jerome Taylor (yes, that Jerome Taylor) who took 5-15 to cut the ground away from Hampshire’s chase; 3-28 to set up the Johan Myburgh Show (103* off 44 balls) vs Essex; and 1-33 vs Sussex to keep the target down to a manageable 170. Taylor – 34 now but with a CV that comprises 15 years of international experience compiled in all three formats – is exactly the kind of canny signing that turns a side that can challenge into a side that can win.

Ball Six – Finch flies high in London derby

Performance of the Week in the South Group goes to Surrey’s openers, Aaron Finch (117*) and Jason Roy (84). While Mohammad Nabi was doing his thing to redefine chasing, the Australia and England biffers looked at a target of 222 set by Middlesex and annihilated it in 16 overs of carnage. The runs scored in each over as they constructed a stand of 194 in 84 balls bears repeating: 14, 17, 23, 15, 14, 15, 15, 10, 12, 9, 15, 11, 10, 14. Of course, it’s not to everyone’s taste, but such consistency is a testament to skills polished by hours of practice, a Derren Brown like ability to read bowlers’ minds and a freedom instilled by a captain and coach who lets them play as they wish without fear of failure. Instead of bemoaning T20’s morphing into something akin to baseball, maybe we should celebrate its stars for the entertainment they provide.



Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 4, 2018

England vs India First Test Day Four

The crowds thronged the pavements of leafy Edgbaston a good hour before the start of play – anyone selling indigestion tablets would have made a killing because breakfasts had been bolted, rucksacks stuffed with a lunch (but no tea) and fancy dress hastily donned.

The contest, after three days of struggle, of ups and downs, of reputations confirmed (and one established) had arrived at cricket’s simplest and purest challenge: England needed five wickets; India needed 84 runs. Usually such a balanced point in a match provokes much conjecture and a dizzying range of scenarios to show how England must win and, conversely, how India couldn’t lose – but not this time. If Virat Kohli is still there at lunch, India win – there was the match, and everyone in the ground and following the play on television, radio or online knew it.

That conviction hardened when Jimmy Anderson found the line and length on which he has worked all match and took Dinesh Kathik’s edge, Dawid Malan, hitherto so vulnerable, clinging on to a low catch at second slip. India 112-6 and the crowd were already applauding forward defensives (India fans) and oohhing and ahhhing orthodox leaves (England fans). The game had shifted towards the home side, but the fundamental requirement remained the same.

England’s old guard were bringing both batsmen forward, and beating the bat regularly, but Kohli was refraining to play when he could and Hardik Pandya resisting his instinct to attack, the youngster inevitably seeing more of the ball. The target was being chipped away as a sculptor might fashion a hero’s bust, with care, but so slowly. For once, one might forgive England’s length being a tad shorter than full, because neither champion could afford to be driven – as demonstrated by Pandya scorching the first half-volley of the morning back past Broad to nudge the target below 70.

India’s captain raised his fifty with a leg glance off Anderson, the boundary greeted with enough noise to show that there were more India fans in for the denouement than had attended on any (maybe all) the previous three days. They soon fell silent, concentration as fierce off the field as on it.

Pandya, showing admirable temperament, drove another four off a Broad half volley and, after the early breakthrough, England had gone a little flat. Root had options: the left arm vibrancy of Sam Curran; the reverse swing and aggression of Ben Stokes; or the leg-breaks, top spinners and googlies of Adil Rashid, probably being held back for the tail. Another super stroke through midwicket revealed Pandya’s growing confidence – he appeared to be enjoying it – but Broad beat him a couple of times too, just to even things a little.

Root turned to Stokes, his make-things-happen-man. And he made it happen! The slightest lapse in concentration saw Kohli play around his front pad to a ball that did little – but would have gone on to hit leg stump. The game shifted and Pandya, hitherto the support act, albeit one that had hogged the limelight with the majority of the strike since he came in, suddenly had the hopes of a billion souls on his shoulders.

Stokes, never one to miss an opportunity to surf a wave of adrenaline, pitched one on a perfect line and length, too good for Mohammed Shami, who feathered it to Jonny Bairstow, to send Stokes on an Imran Tahir like sprint around the outfield. India needed 53 runs and had Pandya and Ishant Sharma at the crease with just Umesh Yadav to come. The Barmy Army were in full cry, but there was a little demon on every England fan’s left shoulder whispering – “Not yet. Not yet”.

At drinks, with a little Stokesian argy-bargy in the air, India needed 42 more, Sharma having fluked a couple of fours through Third Man. And it was time for a little Rashid. Sharma was not going to poke and prod, sweeping straight away for a couple. But Rashid’s bag of tricks were too much for Sharma, done by the wrong’un, palpably LBW after England reviewed an overly cautious “Not out” from Chris Gaffaney – who knew that Root could use his option. The game has certainly changed…

One wicket or 40 runs?

The last thing Stokes made happen was a fence from Pandya that travelled at speed to first slip where Alastair Cook, who had endured one of his personally least happy Tests, hung on to prompt joy on the field and in the stands. Pandya had played well for his 31, but in the end, that same number of runs proved the difference between the sides, England going one-nil up in the five Test series.

The match was completed with more than five sessions in hand, but it had gripped the public from first ball to last. Its heroes were scattered all over the scorecard: Root’s first innings top score; Ashwin’s bamboozling of the left-handers, his seven wickets well earned; Sam Curran’s fine bowling and revelatory batting, the runs that made a match of it, never mind the win; Ishant Sharma’s craft in his second innings fivefer; Broad and Anderson bowling so much better than their figures suggest; Rashid chipping in as expected and Stokes bagging four of the five wickets that fell on the last morning.

More than anything, the crowd will remember Kohli’s 200 runs in a match in which those he led could muster only 14 more between the ten of them. He’ll surely find more support at Lord’s, where these two well matched sides will go toe-to-toe again on Thursday. Don’t miss it!


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 4, 2018

England vs India First Test Day Three

Another electrifying day of cricket, illuminated by players at either end of their careers and others very much in the middle, finished with India 110-5, 84 runs short of their target with a very tense morning in the offing. The match would have a winner of course, but Test cricket, so often deemed an anachronism in the age of digital gratification, emerged once again as a sporting proposition like no other. What a match!

England resumed on 9-1 (the lead 22) with the current England captain replacing his fading predecessor, Alastair Cook out to the last ball of Day Two. Also resuming was Ravichandran Ashwin, who swiftly found the edge of Keaton Jennings’ bat, KL Rahul taking the sharp chance at slip. Jennings was done by a mix of indeterminate footwork and left-handedness – a fatal combination against Ashwin’s drift, bounce and movement.

Dawid Malan looked to have learned the lesson and was immediately positive – which, naturally, brings its own risks. Three close catchers hovered no more than two steps from his outside edge, no doubt offering some conjecture on his future prospects. For all that, Malan looked more a Test batsman for a certain sprightliness in demeanour and attitude – a thick set man, he can appear leaden footed at times, but not today. In a variation on a cliché, Malan was playing the career situation rather than the match situation – but that seemed wise.

Root was at his ease again, going back to Ashwin’s off break to hit against the spin into the open spaces on the offside, but with his bat vertical and late in its impact to mitigate the risk. The timing took it to the fence – and the connoisseurs in the crowd purred. They made a rather different sound soon after when Root, like so many players these days, inexplicably flicked the ball straight into leg slip’s hands and then stood in disbelief – but that’s what fielders do! Jonny Bairstow almost repeated the trick to his first ball – don’t they look at the field?

In a curious incident, Malan edged Ishant Sharma to Shikhar Dhawan who started a celebration at first slip then signalled a review, as he was unsure as to whether the catch had carried. Aleem Dar sent it upstairs and the usual problems with television compressing two dimensions into three ensued. Marais Erasmus had to go with Dar’s soft signal of not out, but I, like Malan and plenty in the ground (and probably Dhawan too) thought it more likely to have carried than not. Malan, on 17, had enjoyed a bit of fortune.

For all Malan’s positive approach, he was tentative in being turned around by a little away swing/seam from Sharma, caught at gully by Ajinkya Rahane. Even if Malan had middled the ball, it was merely a push into the legside and not a pull. It looked the shot of a condemned man, his score of 20 unlikely to silence the doubters.

Things got no better for the home side, Sharma picking up Bairstow and Ben Stokes by attacking the outside edge. Sharma was bowling as well as he had ever done in England, but the harsh truth was that India merely needed to retain the discipline required to bowl to plans in order to blow England’s middle order away. Too many batsmen with high reputations and good records were unwilling to line up the ball, making the half-bat’s width movement fatal. 86-6 at lunch and Saturday tickets were available very cheap on Ebay.

Sharma completed the over broken by the interval with the wicket of England’s vice-captain, Jos Buttler, who essayed a flat-footed drive off a length ball outside off stump in a wanton disregard of the match situation. He had celebrated his new responsibility by facing four balls in the match. At 87-7, England had lost six wickets for 78 runs on the day and the crowd were restive.

Sam Curran and Adil Rashid livened things up for the home fans, putting on 44 for the eighth wicket, Curran especially impressive before, with lights on and to the bemusement of many, the umpires called the players in for bad light. Perhaps Dhawan’s spill of a relatively easy catch at first slip – spoiling a fine day in the field for the visitors – played some part in the decision, but it was a curious thing to do in the midst of the most productive stand of the innings.

The break did the trick for India, Rashid unable to lay a bat on outswingers from Umesh Yadav before losing his off stump to a swift inswinger. The stand was worth 48, the best of the innings, Rashid’s share 16 – three more stands of 40-odd would make things interesting.

Curran thought the same way, launching Ashwin back over his head for successive boundaries before pinching the strike by pushing the ball into the gap where long-on had been. It roused the crowd and lifted the lead to 173. The adrenaline flowing, the 20 year old slashed / poked and missed six times in an over from the sharpish Yadav – the luck probably deserved after such enterprise.

The 24,000 strong crowd were on their feet when Curran stepped to leg and slammed Sharma over extra cover for the six that took him to a maiden fifty, the fifth youngest batsman to notch one for England in Tests (supplementing yesterday’s feat when he became the fourth youngest bowler to take four wickets in a Test innings). It was an innings full of raw talent and promise from the Baby-faced Assassin, who showed with the bat (as he had yesterday with the ball) that he has the temperament for the big occasion. How much he will bat for Surrey or England over the next five years may determine how far he will go as an all-rounder, but it would be a shame to see his second skill reduced to thrashing at the end of white ball innings or in 30-odd not outs from 8 or 9 in red ball cricket.

Just before tea, Stuart Broad’s fun was ended by yet another edge, beautifully taken by Dhawan, tumbling at first slip. The left-handers had added a useful 41, the lead 189 with England’s last pair at the crease. Curran had a little more thrashing, but eventually did tickle one to Dinesh Kathik out for a splendid 63, the innings closing on 180. Sharma had a fivefer, supported by Ashwin’s 1, 2, 3 in the order and Yadav’s couple down the order.

India would chase 194, which they should get – I say should…

And they would if England continued to shell chances, the Murali Vijay dropped by the maladroit Malan off the luckless Anderson. It just wasn’t Malan’s Test – and nor might be the next one after another poor day at the crease and in the slips. At least Vijay’s reprieve didn’t last long, LBW padding up to an in-slanting delivery from Broad. The crowd were involved, knowing that a famous Broad streak might just be coming.

One flat-footed Dhawan drive and edge to Bairstow later, the streak was on, India 22-2 and King Kohli at the crease. Edgbaston, for the first time all match, was earning its reputation of England’s Gabbatoir, the noise echoing round the concrete bowl. The blood was up on the field and off.

Broad and Anderson knew that this moment was England’s best chance and both charged in, finding swing despite the sunshine. Kohli was looking to leave Anderson whenever he could, reluctant to chase it outside the off stump. Not so KL Rahul who was undone by Stokes’ kicking seamer (to be fair, he had to play it), a regulation edge going through to Bairstow. At 46-3, the scoreboard was balanced… but Kohli was still there.

Rahane, never settled, was given out on review, caught off an under-edge by the scooping gloves of Bairstow, Curran’s fifth wicket of a breakthrough Test match – 63-4 but the captain still there. The experience of Ashwin was favoured over the nervousness of Dinesh Karthik or the panache of Hardik Pandya at Six – with lights on and England’s bowlers finding movement in the air and off the seam, it was a fierce examination of technique and temperament.

But Ashwin is only a middle order bat in subcontinental conditions, not in the heavy air and cloudy skies of England – and certainly not against a perfectly pitched Anderson outswinger – 78-5. It was as tough as batting gets, the English equivalent of dealing with a raging fifth day turner in humid Chennai heat with men around the bat. Great players exploit such conditions – all-time greats resist them.

Dinesh Karthik joined his extraordinary captain and India nudged the runs required into double figures. Root was demanding every last drop of energy from his bowlers and they were giving it, the 36 year-old Anderson walking ever more slowly back to his mark.

Towards the end of a three hour long session, some of the intensity inevitably went out of the tiring bowlers, but credit goes to the nonpareil Kohli (43) and a battling Karthik (18) for their resistance in an unbroken stand of 32. India closed needing 84 more for the win, England needing five wickets. And it’s fair to say that one of those was very much more needed than the other four.




Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 3, 2018

England vs India First Test Day Two

A healthy Thursday crowd witnessed an extraordinary day of Test cricket, in which Sam Curran’s promise, Ben Stokes’ aggression and Jimmy Anderson’s skill were ultimately eclipsed by Virat Kohli’s genius in an innings for the ages. He, helped by England’s flawed catching and inability to prevent the Indian captain farming the strike, was solely responsible for the second day ending with England just 22 in front, nine wickets in hand, ahead in the match, but surely wondering about how much further advanced they would have been, if only…

England added just a couple to their overnight score to be all out 287, Curran edging a widish one from the persevering Mohammed Shami to be out for 24. On a pitch that held few apparent demons under a bright sun, that felt well under par – it was now India’s job to prove that conjecture.

India progressed serenely, if with the odd play-and-miss, to 50 without loss against the old guard of Stuart Broad and Anderson, the crowd settling in for a masterclass of subcontinental batsmanship on a sultry day, when Curran, who had sneaked into the side for his second Test almost under the cover of the furore raging over the selection of Adil Rashid, bustled in and swung the ball as clouds gathered. Joe Root made a fine call to review a delivery that snaked inside Murali Vijay’s bat, KL Rahul went too hard too early and inside edged it on to his stumps and Shikhar Dhawan edged to Dawid Malan at second slip. India had lost three wickets for nine runs and Curran had them all!

The shock still hung in the air when lunch was taken with India 76-3, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane nudging and nurdling, assessing (correctly) that the booming drives could wait – there’s nothing beats experience, except if your name is Sam, Jimmy or Stuart, I suppose.

After lunch the clouds continued to assemble and so did England’s slips, as the ball curved for Anderson and Ben Stokes. It wasn’t just the batsmen who weren’t reading it, as England failed to call for a review for a Stokes delivery that Hawkeye showed would have hit Rahane’s leg stump. Edges failed to carry to the keeper and slips, standing (as usual) a little too deep. The bowlers were on top, but Kohli and Rahane had plenty of fight – and they needed it. in a compelling contest.

Even as calm and experienced a pro as Rahane couldn’t deal with the pressure hanging out a bat to a widish Stokes delivery, Keaton Jennings taking a sharp catch, shoulder high at fourth slip. Like Dhawan (26) and Vijay (20), Rahane (15) had got in and got out – but credit some fine cricket from England provoking those dismissals.

It was too much for Dinesh Karthik too, who left a gap of, well, white ball dimensions, which Stokes barged through, uprooting middle stump with an explosive yorker, a spectacular 100th Test wicket for a gifted cricketer. With the tension almost palpable, Hardik Pandya played all round a big in-ducker from an on-fire Stokes and reviewed almost in desperation. To widespread disbelief, Hawkeye showed it to be missing leg stump, the swing even greater than it appeared and Pandya had his reprieve.

Kohli was concentrating hard, but Anderson was always going to nick his edge with one of his outswingers and, when he did, Malan dropped it badly in the slips. Incredibly, the very next ball, Stokes induced an edge from Pandya and Alastair Cook dropped as easy a chance as you ever get as first slip. Stokes adrenaline was rocketing, an 89mph delivery the external sign of internal turmoil. What cricket we were witnessing!

Kohli couldn’t buy a run (quite something for a man not short of a rupee or two) but he was still there, working hard and showing the way – captain, leader and (nascent) legend. A worthy opponent is a vital component of a sporting spectacle, something recognised (at least I like to think so) in Root’s mature response to the the “mic drop” send-off on day one. Test cricket is not for brittle men – physically or mentally – and to take offence or to fail to recognise the humour, would show such brittleness.

Pandya will play far worse and score far more than the 22 he managed in this innings, out to Curran who continued to pitch the ball up fearlessly and use the swing that he has always found since breaking into the Surrey side as a callow schoolboy. Kohli soon went to his fifty off 100 balls and was dropped (again) next ball, Malan going wide to his right – a tough but takeable chance. Stokes, bowling as well as he has ever done for his country, was the unlucky bowler, tempting the Indian captain, full and wide of off stump. How England would be made to pay for those lapses.

Tea was taken with India 160-6, the crowd catching their breath after as magnificent a couple of hours of Test cricket – hell, of sport – as you will ever see.

After a hopeless England review against Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin inexplicably played inside an Anderson delivery that actually seamed in, losing his off bail, gone for 10, Kohli now left with India’s three Number 11s. The Indian captain switched into T20 mode, pinching twos and hitting gaps, the match feeling very different after bowlers had been on top for so long. Anderson, perhaps his understandable grumpiness dissipating, found Shami flashing and, for once, the slips cordon did its job, the fallible Malan clinging on.

With Ishant Sharma at the other end, Kohli pinched singles, hit boundaries and made batting look absurdly easy in very testing conditions. The star quality beamed from the middle into every seat in the ground – what an entertainer the man is!

Root turned to his leg spinner and one ball was enough to shoot through Ishant Sharma’s defence, leaving his captain at the bowler’s end with just Umesh Yadav left to see him through to his hundred. A cut backward of square raised the three figures, a flawed, but utterly brilliant, knock – a genius at work. An innings should not be defined by the fielders’ errors but how the batsman responds to them and Kohli rode his luck did everything for his team and for a crowd who will never forget their privilege of witnessing a master batsman and fierce competitor.

All the while the Kohli storyline was playing out, England’s dominant position was being reduced to a strong one and, eventually, merely useful. Of course, that’s what great players do – they change games. But late order stands annoy fielders, erode confidence and can unsettle the opening batsmen who brood on the task to come.

India’s last two wickets occupied 22 overs and contributed 92 runs, the vast majority of the strike taken by India’s imperious captain. Having barely scored a run in the hour after lunch when England bowled with a ferocious intensity, he cashed in late in the day – the very definition of ignoring the platitude to “play your natural game” in favour of playing the match situation. It’s what great players do. Tired by the end of his stay, Kohli slashed a catch to Broad at gully off Rashid, gone for 149, the next highest score 26. Nobody in the ground would forget it and they rose as one to applaud him every step to the pavilion.

Jennings and Cook, both with plenty to prove, strode to the crease with the lead a barely visible 13, and India’s confidence sky high after an extraordinary momentum shift. There was a grim inevitability about Cook’s dismissal, a Crtl-C, Ctrl-V of his first innings eviscerating by Ashwin, Cook now bowled out in half his last ten innings. Kohli had got yet another call right on a day in which he could do little wrong – and when he did, England dropped him. Boy, did he make them pay.





Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 2, 2018

England vs India First Test Day One

Your correspondent’s vantage point

England, having tossed away good positions through the course of the day, closed the first day of the First Test on 285-9, India capitalising on Joe Root’s run out to snare six wickets for 69 runs on a blameless pitch. England will have to bowl very well to get back into this Test and then bat with much more application if they are to avoid going one down with four to play.

At 10.30, the sun shining on Edgbaston, Root looked at the straw coloured pitch and said “We’ll have a bat”. Virat Kohli must have sucked on a thoughtful tooth and considered a tough task in front of him and his bowlers, with just the one spinner to relieve the four seamers. In the first session, ball beat bat frequently (as it will do in Test cricket) but Keaton Jennings was compact and watchful and Root busy and bustling as usual. The movement in the air was very much from the hand, allowing the batsmen to leave with some assurance, conventional swing benign in comparison to the reverse that would come later in the day.

The odd one out was Alastair Cook, who, having looked competent, if not fluent, in doing the hard work during the half hour in which the feet aren’t really moving and everything is mechanical, missed one from Ravichandran Ashwin that turned past a slightly crooked bat to hit the stumps – gone for 13. Ashwin had the first of what he hoped would be a clutch of left-handed scalps in August (England have seven lefties in the order) and a crucial confidence booster after the popular clamour to play the exotic wrist spin of Kuldeep Yadav. In contrast, the dismissal did nothing for the confidence of Alastair Cook, bowled for the fourth time in his last nine innings – not a good look for an opening batsman.

With road closures around the ground, the crowd took some time to settle into their seats and the players too were feeling their way back into Test cricket after a couple of months of white ball biffage with the bat and liquorice allsorts bowling with the ball. England were going at four an over or so, but that was more the result of Kohli’s admirably aggressive fields than positive strokeplay. The cliche would have it that two heavyweights were feeling each other out in the first round of a championship bout.

England took lunch at 83-1, having had that bit of luck you need (Ajinkya Rahane had dropped Jennings in the slips), knowing that another good session would put them very much on the front foot. India looked to tighten their lines and exploit the touch of sideways movement still available from a drying pitch. Perhaps the happiest man on either side was Adil Rashid, who will relish the opportunity to bowl in the fourth innings in the light of the turn Ashwin was extracting on the first morning.

Root was determined to play a lot of shots – perhaps a contributory factor in his curious record of non-conversions of fifties into centuries. Of course, you can’t score if you don’t play ’em, but England’s captain could afford to sit in the game a little with easier pickings likely to come – though that’s never been his style.

Jennings was largely untroubled, his economy of movement and compact approach ideal for bowling that had just a little movement either way. Ironically, that virtue was to be his undoing, as tentative footwork and very soft hands led to an inside edge on to the pads, the ball dribbling back on to the stumps, Mohammed Shami the somewhat fortunate, if deserving, bowler. Jennings out for 42, England 98-2.

Dawid Malan had survived one review – a poor one, as the ball hit his foot well outside off stump – but his own review failed to save him, LBW on Umpire’s Call to Mohammed Shami, whose line was the best of the Indian seamers. The stocky Middlesex man was gone for a scratchy 8 and, in a portent of what fans of Test cricket must surely be hoping for over the next six weeks, the pendulum had swung already, India nosing in front.

On Yorkshire Day, two favourite sons of the Broad Acres were getting on with it, Root passing 50 and Jonny Bairstow playing with the freedom of a Number 7 despite coming in at 5. Kohli was having a bob each-way (as MCJ Nicholas might say) with in-out fields to dry up the runs and a couple of slips for the flashing edge. A shocking over rate didn’t help England’s cause, just 54 overs delivered in two full sessions, with Ashwin bowling 11. Penalise the fielding side one run for each ball not delivered (and make sessions 32 overs long) and the crowd would get its (considerable) money’s worth. England took tea on 163-3, the match nicely balanced.

After tea, England accumulated without much trouble and India were waiting for something to happen when, as so often the case in Test cricket, something did. What looked an entirely unremarkable single suddenly demanded attention as the England men inexplicably attempted a second. It had to be Kohli, who had to pick it up, who was certain to hit the stumps despite throwing off balance and Root had to be given, miles out, the partnership terminated on 104, the England captain trudging back 20 short of that elusive century. It was poor cricket from England, but sensational stuff from India’s skipper – that star quality yet again. England fans had that collective sinking feeling that this was a Turning Point – and so it proved.

Bairstow, perhaps brooding on his call, followed his captain back to the pavilion for a fine 70, concluding on a poor shot, bowled off the inside edge, the bat neither vertical nor horizontal. England, having got ahead in the game, were behind on 223-5. One brought two, as Jos Buttler played all round a straight one from Ashwin to go for a duck and England – just when runs should have been coming more easily – had lost three wickets for eight runs. Kohli had made the breach, but India’s bowlers hadn’t had to do too much to burst through the middle order.

And Ashwin didn’t do much to send back Ben Stokes, who could have hit a long hop anywhere, and, perhaps confused by the options, got half way through a pull before seeming to give it up, the end result being a shovel back to the bowler – dismal.

Not for the first time in the day, just as England’s batsmen started to look comfortable, Ishant Sharma clattered the old ball into Adil Rashid’s front pad, reverse swing doing its job as Kohli knew it would, and, by virtue of being caught on the crease, the review lit up with three reds and another mini-revival was snuffed out.

Stuart Broad came and went, as he does these days, and Jimmy Anderson got plenty of shouts for his channeling of Courtney Walsh’s contortions at the crease. Quite what Sam Curran, highly orthodox in approach, made of it, can only be speculated upon. He finished the day on 24, England on 285-9.

The day belonging to India, Ashwin, Shami and, inevitably, the captain leading the way. Batting was never entirely easy, but few England batsmen can claim to have no culpability in their demises – one feels that India are unlikely to be as profligate and if a centurion can be found amongst the visitors, England will be facing a first innings deficit and a bowler who has the er… Indian sign over the left-handers.

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